Various ‘Dancing Down Orange Street’ Expanded CD (Doctor Bird) 5/5

Reggae compilations do not come with greater kudos or sheer collectability than this gem of an album with evocative graphic art to accompany on the cover, and this is quite simply one of the most eagerly anticipated re-issues of the year and the first time that many longer term reggae fans have been afforded the opportunity to hear the music contained within. Thankfully, the musical content does stand up to the hype and, moreover, has the major extra bonus of what amounts to an additional album worth of material, and all organised under the expert production talent of Sonia Pottinger. This release is a fitting testimony to her exceptional talents.

The music itself comes from the transitional period of the late 1960’s when rock steady was morphing into early reggae, and a by-product of this was a chugging uptempo and mid-temp rhythm with stunning vocal harmonies, which has come to be known as ‘boss reggae’, and which was championed by the earliest and original incarnation of skinheads in the UK. Far from having the unsavory political inclinations of the latter in the 1970’s second period, these youths were fascinated by the Rude Boy culture of counterparts in Kingston. Irrespective, the music is timeless, accessible to all, and features the cream of instrumentalists and vocalists of the time. Harmony groups of the ilk of The Melodians offer the incredibly soulful ‘Tell Me Baby’, the catchiest of bass lines on, ‘Lonely’, and best of all, the mid-tempo burner of a tune, ‘Heartaches’. Jamaicans were certainly taking in developments in the United States. Less well-known to others, The Beltones (AKA Fantels) and The Conquerors were aspiring vocal groups and the latter contribute, ‘Look ‘Pon You’, which is an uptempo riddim-laden number with catchy trombone riff. Vocalist Delano Stewart is deserving of greater recognition and excels here on ‘That’s Life’, with a faux Motown piano intro, before heading off with a bubbling bass line and keyboard motif. Delroy Wilson was a major singer who preceded Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs, and straddled era and stylistic changes. Here, ‘I’m The One Who Loves You’, is a delicious slice of contemporary sounding reggae. Of the lesser known singers, Patsy Todd deserves a mention and once again Motown influences are hinted at in intro to, ‘We Were Lovers’. This compilation scores so highly because of the quality of the musicians and the spread of individual and collective singing, coupled with stunning arrangements that are as good as anything from any other premier label at the time. Lengthy inner sleeve notes are jointly penned by Andy Lambourn and boss reggae authority Marc Griffiths. A great time to be listening to the immense legacy of Jamaican popular music.

Tim Stenhouse